The hearings and arguments over the proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth have focused in recent months on the state approval of an air quality permit.
On Monday, the attention turned to safety issues. And this time it was federal officials who were listening.
The Weymouth compressor would be built on a four-acre lot in an industrial area just over the massive Fore River Bridge from Quincy. Compressor stations increase the pressure in pipelines, speeding the movement of natural gas so it can travel further. Enbridge, the company that plans to build the station, says this project would provide extra capacity on its Algonquin Gas Transmission and Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline systems to move natural gas into New England and on to markets in the Canadian Maritime provinces.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project in 2017, and a court challenge filed by Weymouth was defeated. The proposal has drawn fierce opposition from residents of Weymouth and its surrounding towns, as well as most of the politicians representing them. That was clear Monday night.
Rep. Steven Lynch invited representatives of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, to come hear from the community. And from the beginning of the meeting, he made it perfectly clear where he stands on the issue.
“I think at the outset it’s fair to say that there remains a deep and abiding frustration among most, if not all, of the people who gather here tonight with the FERC regulatory process thus far,” Lynch said. “We don't believe that FERC has listened to us. And we don't believe that the courts have listened, and we don't believe that we've been treated fairly.”
Despite that, Lynch expressed some optimism that the PHMSA officials might intercede to stop the proposed compressor station. Weymouth mayor Bob Hedlund was more down about the prospect of anything changing.
“Why would I be pessimistic?” Hedlund asked as he addressed the three PHMSA officials at the meeting. “Just from a federal standpoint alone — and I recognize that you guys are federal officials — we’ve tried to bring our concerns about public safety to the attention of federal officials. We’ve tried to bring to the attention of federal official our concerns about public health. And we feel really it has fallen on deaf ears. We feel that the process really is weighted — and I’m saying this diplomatically — weighted for the opponents. That may be a strong understatement.”
Linda Daugherty of PHMSA responded by thanking the elected officials and community members for sharing their concerns.
“We are listening to you,” she said. “And we will do our best to provide answers or make a difference. That’s the best we can do and hope to do.”
Lynch acknowledged that PHMSA doesn’t have authority over siting of facilities like the compressor station and has relatively little oversight power. But he said they can designate “high consequence areas” in which the agency is empowered with greater authority for inspections and risk analysis. Lynch said that designation could be made if a site met any of three criteria: if it’s near a high density of population, if it would threaten a sensitive environmental area or if it could pose a threat to vessels in navigable waters. And he said the proposed Weymouth site meets all three.
Lynch said there were eight other possible locations considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “But in the end, they picked the worst one,” he said. “This is the one site where those three risks, those three dangers are present.”
Mary Lee Hanley, a spokesman for Enbridge, says the station should not be a source of concern. “Enbridge’s Weymouth compressor station will be built to meet or exceed all federal safety standards and regulations,” she said on Tuesday.
As Monday’s hearing opened up for statements from community members, though, a recurring theme in their comments was thenatural gas fires and explosions in the Merrimack Valley last fall, which destroyed homes and killed one person.
“And that was just an ordinary gas line,” said Louise Quigley of North Braintree. “Here they want to do a compressed natural gas? These things sometimes have accidents, and if this thing had an accident it would make what happened in Lawrence look like a campfire to roast marshmallows at,” she said to applause from the crowd. “It would be terrible.”